Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Busy Little Bees

My week, beginning Sunday afternoon:

To Target to Best Buy to home to HEB to home to Mike's to home to bed to sleep to the gym to work to lunch to work to home to school to Baskin Robbins to the dojang to home to bed to sleep to work to lunch to work to home to the dojang to Randall's to home to bed to sleep to the gym to work...

That brings us up to today, right now, 9:29AM. Anticipated schedule for the rest of the week:

... to lunch to work to HEB to home to church to home to bed to sleep to work to lunch to work to home to the dojang to occupational therapy to home to the dojang to Randall's to Target to home to bed to sleep to school to the gym to WalMart to home to HEB to home to school to ... Angel Fire, NM (eventually).

And that's just me. Christine has her very own version with different details but largely similar content. Buzz buzz buzz. If I'm going to be such a busy little bee, I hope I at least get some time to pollinate in there....

Mood: Buzzy
Now Playing: Pet Shop Boys, "PopArt"

Monday, January 29, 2007

Vacation Countdown, Awkward Hangtime

4 days until I finally grab some much needed vacation time. Not a big, long vacation, mind you, but a solid 6 days away, not working, not spending each 24 hour period of the day running from the house to the gym to the office to the house to the dojang to the store to the house, lather and rinse and repeat as needed. That's pretty much been the past 4-6 weeks. Definitely getting a bit frayed around the edges by all the activity.

We'll be heading to Angel Fire, NM for a long weekend of skiing. 800 or so miles of driving each way, with 4 days of resort time sandwiched in the middle. Now, I've never skied before, nor have the kids. Christine has, but her last ski trip was sometime around the same time we started dating back in high school, so let's say she hasn't skied in 20+ years. In other words for all intents and purposes she's never skied before either. Should make for a fairly exciting and adventurous week, to say the least. I fully expect to be sore and bruised in all sorts of new and exciting places when I return. I just hope there are no significant injuries to remember the week by.

It's funny: I'm not really sure why we're going skiing, aside from wanting to try something new and different with the kids. Neither Christine nor I are exactly what you'd call "cold weather people," and while the kids seem to relish the idea of getting to romp around in the snow, they've never really had to deal with Real Serious Cold before so they really don't know what they're in for.

Personally, much as I am looking forward to seeing some mountains and learning something new I was kinda hoping we'd settle on something a little less adventurous, like a short cruise. Someplace warm. Beaches, shorts, and frosty cold drinks. I HATE being cold. Cold hurts. It makes my skin dry out and itch like crazy, and my back tends to tighten up and ache constantly when I'm cold for prolonged periods of time. Thanks to the generosity of family and friends we've laid our hands on lots of high-quality cold weather gear so we'll be thoroughly insulated, if nothing else. But I can't help but get the feeling that by halfway through the third day of skiing I'll be way more interested in hanging out by the fireplace or soaking in the spa back at the lodge.

Of course, I could be wrong. We'll see.


The week and weekend was ... interesting. I mean, it was good, but it had some odd notes mixed in with some great parts. Following my self-doubt dithering early in the week I had some really great training sessions and came away from the dojang with my confidence nicely restored. I managed to do some fairly decent sparring, and some of the techniques we were working on played to my strengths. Which include, well, strength: what I currently lack in finesse and relaxation I more than make up for with brute force and persistence. We did a bunch of hand technique work with pads one night last week and by the time we were finished my partner could barely lift his arms. Not that I was trying to hurt him or anything, but I can hit pretty darn hard, and even with pads you start getting sore and fatigued given enough impact. So, that was satisfying and helped close out the week on a high note.

And the kids had a piano recital on Friday night, and did very well. And family class on Saturday morning was exhausting, and fun, and a big sweaty mess -- the dojang was quite warm, and Mr. Vasquez put us through the red belt test line drills before doing some team sparring to wrap things up. I was drenched, but had a blast. Plus I finally managed to get my hands on a Nintendo DS, after weeks of searching. And we had Master Nunan and Pennie over for dinner on Saturday night, which was a lot of fun coupled with a pretty darn good meal (if I do say so myself -- penne with a vodka tomato cream sauce topped with chilled smoked salmon). And finally ice cream cake and games at my brother's place for his birthday. All in all a good weekend, with lots of fun and good company.

But I also had a couple of odd moments, where I realized -- in spite of how far I've come along on this front already, thanks to my training -- just how guarded I can still be around people. I'm not talking about people I know but don't really let get close -- you know, work friends, the random neighbor, casual social acquaintances, "arm's length friends," and so on. Those folks I can handle without the slightest problem. It wears me out, but I don't spend much time thinking about (or caring particularly) what they think of me. I'm talking about people with whom I've clicked, people who I want to get closer with. In this particular case it was dinners with the Nunans, or in particular, my hang-time with Master Nunan while our wives were doing some Mary Kay cosmetics stuff.

Now, it's not that it was not "good" time -- we chatted up a storm, got some good jokes flying, and had ourselves a fine time, but I realized later that I felt kind of awkward and didn't really start to relax until the women joined us and we sat down to dinner. Once I had Christine around, I felt more confident and finally really relaxed and let my guard down. And once I did, things got really interesting -- lots of deeper discussion about far more interesting and personal stuff. Religion, politics, dojang drama, family histories, all sorts of stuff that, when it was just he and I, earlier, I couldn't bring myself to start in on.

Once I realized just how stiff I was earlier in the evening I made a sort of off-hand comment about how it can be hard for me to get myself chatting sometimes, to try to let them know that I may have seemed a bit off-kilter earlier and didn't want them to feel put-off by it, and the rest of the evening certainly went swimmingly (including one unexpectedly hysterical moment involving a toy rubber frog and an empty beer bottle that had me literally gasping for air, tears streaming down my face and sides aching from laughter). Talking with Christine about it later I just had to laugh. I sometimes I forget just how much of a wall I built around myself over the past 10 or so years, and I find I'm kinds of stunted in social situations where I'm actually personally invested, where I actually care what the people think of me. Walls are great at keeping unwanted people out, but they do a great job of locking you in as well. And even when you decide to knock them down it can take a little while before enough of the rubble has been cleared out to allow quick and easy passage. Regardless, progress is being made on the demolition.

Damn shame they couldn't have swung the cash to join us in Angel Fire -- I bet that would have been a blast. Meh. Maybe next time.


So the remainder of the week is busy as hell. Work work work, with a seemingly endless cavalcade of school meetings and award ceremonies jammed in before Friday to keep our evening packed solid. I think I've worked out a schedule that will enable me to train tomorrow night, but otherwise dojang time will be severely limited this week. That's a bit disappointing, but nothing to be worried over -- I've got a solid 2 months until the next test, have already learned my new form and 2 new one steps, and have started getting a handle on my new required wrist grabs as well. They're all far from perfect, but I've certainly got ample time to get them all polished and shiny before test time. So, missing a week of training time isn't going to present any insurmountable obstacles to progress or anything like that. But still, I'm gonna miss having that time on the mat.

Mood: Counting the hours
Now Playing: Godspeed You! Black Emperor, "F# A# oo"

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Hum & Drone, Voices in My Head

It's been a few weeks since I've had time to write, here. Work has been overwhelming, all-encompassing, and largely unrewarding on anything other than a bi-weekly payment level for the better part of a month, now. The majority of time that is left on the periphery of each day, before and after the office hours, is getting consumed by gym time (which I'm trying to re-establish as a 3-4 times weekly habit) and dojang time (mine, Christine's, or the kids -- often a combination of two or more of the above). Add into this mix a work "party" (awful), dan promotion ceremony and performance (great), video projects (fun, but time consuming), a two-day ice storm that did its best to paralyze Our Fair City, and shopping/preparation for our upcoming family ski trip (exciting, nerve-wracking) and you get a jittery, buzzy blur of a month, one that is rushing by both far too quickly and much too slowly, lots of activity and effort without much of a sense of accomplishment or completion.

I find myself walking around in a more or less constant state of vague apprehension, satisfied that I'm getting things done and that things are under control, but also uneasy at how quickly things could spin out of control if something goes wrong and waiting for the other shoe to drop.

Times like this are rough on me, emotionally. Prolonged stress tends to get my self-doubt and insecurities revved into high gear, and my moods tend to shift rather suddenly and drastically as well. For example, at Saturday's dan promotion ceremony my mom, Christine, Miranda and I (we let Trevor sit this one out, at his request) did a performance of Chil Sung Ee Rho. I was pretty heavily invested in this, emotionally -- it was my first effort at creating something interesting and new to present at our dojang, we put a lot of work in, and after the debacle the work party had become Friday night (bad party, terrible food, tons of folks I could do without ever seeing socially mixed in with lots of folks I love being around but who were equally ill at ease) I really needed this to be a good experience.

Anyway, the form came off great, and we got lots of compliments for some of the more creative twists we threw in (beginning in a square formation facing away from each other, and also breaking out of synchronous movement for several portions, and instead doing the movements in order of rank after which we would sync up again) . The dans all did wonderful vignettes, and Mr. Delenela in particular wrote a beautiful, moving biography that brought a lot of tears to a lot of eyes that day. And while it was a small turnout, audience-wise, I was still happy with myself and proud of my family for our contribution to this celebration of the hard work and dedication of several of our fellow students.

I felt great, but was rather stirred up, emotionally. Where I'd started the day eager for companionship and camaraderie, perhaps a party or evening of mixing and mingling with my dojang friends and family, I instead found my self rapidly plunging into a very introverted mood. Too much noise. Too many people. All I wanted to do was go home, maybe have a few friends over to hang out but simply not able to handle being around large groups in noisy places. I was a bundle of nerves until we got to a restaurant afterward and I was able to stake out a location at the end of table where I could at least be in something of a virtual corner, someplace I could take the level of social interaction down to something I could manage. It helped that we were also seated near most of the folks I would have invited to my house to hang with, people I can feel at ease with socially under most any circumstances. But by the end of the evening I was desperate to get home and curl up on the couch and just not be around so many people.

And I'm still in a bit of a tailspin, really getting down on myself. Did some sparring last night and wound up limping in pain for hours after my second match. Not because of anything I did, or anything my sparring partners did. Just because of dealing with this ongoing pain in my right hip and groin, problems theoretically caused by an out-of-alignment sacrum which is causing me all sorts of referred nerve pain. It's getting better, slowly, so slowly, but after 3 months of physical therapy I'm getting frustrated. Of course, I'm not doing the exercises that I need to do to fix it as often as I should, and I've started running again, which is no doubt putting extra stress on the joints and causing some backsliding on my recovery. So there's that.

I create my own problems, my exercise and training choices all contribute to the slowness of my recovery from this injury. I know this. And mostly I accept it, and I am able to factor the obstacles the injury creates to my Tang Soo Do performance in without driving myself nuts. The pain and instability in my right hip messes with my balance, makes throwing certain kicks difficult, and acts as a solid distraction when sparring. They're all getting better, but it's a slow, slow process, made slower by my constant training. And I accept that, mostly. But last night, after I sparred and was soundly trounced twice, I went home and just glowered and sighed away the next two hours, arguing with myself:

"Why do you bother? Why do you keep trying? You're never going to be any good. You suck at sparring, always have. You're fooling yourself."

"But I am doing well! My kicks are damn good, although there's always room for improvement in form and technique. My spin kicks are really starting to feel like they flow correctly and have real power and some speed. I look at the students I've trained with over the past year and I can see, consistently, that my extra time training and practicing has made a noticeable difference in our relative abilities. And I rarely spar against anyone who is not far, far more experienced and trained than I am, not to mention younger. I am doing well."

"Yeah, yeah. Keep telling yourself that. Those guys are going easy on you, and you still can't keep up. You can't even figure out when to kick when you're on the mat, ferchrissakes. And your technique isn't all that. You've got nearly 3 years to go before you reach dan. You'll be lucky if you can still walk by then."

About this time I start just telling my head to shut up, and try to focus on TV or a book, and I try to remind myself that of those two voices in my head, only one is worth listening to. Only one is trying to build something, to make something new of and for myself. The other one consumes all sorts of energy eroding and chipping away at the foundations of something good. Something I've spent over a year building, piece by piece, and which I know is turning into something worthwhile and strong and lasting.

But sometimes it would be so easy to just give up, give in. It seems so attractive. It's seems like it would be so much easier to be nobody than to be somebody, to be a sheep, to just blend into the murky blur and stop trying so hard. I don't think I actually can do that -- I'm just not wired that way.

But there's always this sense that it would be easier to be me if only I were.

Mood: Unsatisfied, down
Now Playing: "Lift Your Skinny Fists Like Antennas to Heaven," Godspeed You! Black Emperor

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

2006: Favorite Blog Entry

I was going through my blog entries from the past year this morning, trying to pick out a favorite to share again. I think, in retrospect, that nothing I wrote last year matches this entry. Yes, it's quite sad. It's also entirely true, and I'm quite proud of it. Please take a look.


Mood: Twitchy. Need to train
Now Playing: Fishbone, "Freddie's Dead"

Monday, January 01, 2007

2006: Thoughts

New year's day, and I'm feeling that typical urge to attempt to sum up the last year or so, and to place it into some sort of perspective. But I've been trying to get the words together for about half and hour, and it just ain't happening. Odd, that. So, I'll just go with some observations and see where they take me.

For me, this past year has been ... significant. That's the only word that really sums up my experiences in 2006. This was a year with weight, heft, and substance. 2006 really mattered.

There was some pain and loss. Losing Princess and Tom in the space of a single week was unspeakably horrid. And we had many challenges here at home, particularly in regard to my kids and their ADD/ADHD issues. This wasn't an easy year. But on the whole, it was a good one. Our family came through it in one piece, and we're a solid and strong and loving unit. I love my wife and my children so much it makes my heart ache, and I am so very, very blessed to have them.

The most obvious thing that defined 2006 for me is that it was the first year of my Tang Soo Do training, and I find I can't quite express just how much training has affected my life, inwardly and outwardly. Simply put, I feel more alive than I have in years. And it's not that I was unhappy or miserable before I started training. Instead I think that, somewhere in the course of getting a career and becoming a father, I forgot that my own life can be a work in progress. That who and what I am now, at 39, is not necessarily all that I can ever be. Tang Soo Do has reminded me of this, and it's difficult to explain how big a deal that is. It sounds like a simple thing, and I suppose from the outside looking in it is. But for me, this was something of a profound realization. Or perhaps a reawakening.

The results of this have been permeating all sorts of aspects of my life in unexpected ways. The most immediate and obvious effects are social: I feel more sure of myself socially than I have in years. I've found myself opening up and building friendships in a manner that I haven't been able to since college. I've made great strides in ignoring the self-doubt that used to run rampant over me on a regular basis. Prior to beginning training, I doubt I could have made the trek to Chicago for Adrianne's memorial celebration, and I certainly wouldn't have done it alone. I would have made excuses and come up with very good and sturdy reasons to not go, thereby avoiding any discomfort whatsoever. Instead I made my stressed-out ass go, and as a result enjoyed a weekend with some of the most fascinating, unique and enjoyable people I've ever met.

Without training, this would never have occured. I'm certain of that.

And while some folks still say I really need to relax, I know that I've already come a long way on that front. While I may be a bit twitchy and tense on the mat, I'm way more relaxed and confident and open to just enjoying myself while training than I was in the first few months. Shin chook remains my biggest obstacle, and I often wonder whether I will ever be able to really and truly just relax, on or off the mat. I simply don't understand how to do it. I know I'm tense, I know how it feels to be relaxed, but the idea of relaxing while actively engaged in something (even something I enjoy) eludes me. In my head, I equate relaxation with passivity and rest, not with activity. So shin chook is an ongoing lesson, but I'm making progress.

Training has also helped me to adjust my perspective on my career. My career is just fine. It's not terribly meaningful or "fulfilling" these days, but I don't really expect it to be those things anymore. It provides a good living and keeps me busy, but doesn't really define me in any way. I think that's a healthy attitude to have toward a job. And I suppose that's a development, a change. I used to live and breathe my job, and it was eating me up. This is no longer the case, and that's a really good thing.

So, yes. 2006 was a year that really mattered for me. The usual superlatives don't really apply. It wasn't a "great" year or an "awful" year, although it had great parts and awful parts. But one thing is certain: For the first time I can remember, I feel like I really used Every Little Bit of the time I had in this year, and used it well. I spent 12 months consuming my time here on Earth with great big gluttonous bites. It was hard, sometimes exhausting, often painful. But looking back over the year I know I didn't waste a second of it. This is the first year in a while where I know, without question, that I lived each and every moment as fully as I could. And if that's not the definition of a good year, then I don't really know what is.

So, in closing, a quotation. At Adrianne's memorial celebration, Alan noted that one of Adrianne's favorite phrases, and the one by which she built so much of her world view and approach to life, was this bit from Auntie Mame:
"Live! Life is a banquet, and most poor suckers are starving to death."
I think that sums up 2006 for me. And that ain't too shabby. God willing, 2007 will hold more of the same for me, and I hope that it holds the same promise for you as well.

Mood: Sleepy, but happy
Now Playing: Nothing